Out of all the cities we’ve visited on our latest Portugal itinerary, Lagos really stood out. This historic town in the Western Algarve region has a bustling historic heart that is surrounded by loads of natural beauty. If you’re looking for a picturesque seaside city that offers plenty of opportunities for day trips, then this is where to stay in Algarve for a memorable vacation. Here’s our guide on the best things to do in Lagos, Portugal.
Lagos (Portugal) tourist map
Lagos is located in the Western-Algarve, away from overly touristy Albufeira and close to the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park. It’s also one of the sunniest destinations in this part of Portugal thanks to the Monchique mountains in the north, which shelter the city from the clouds and winds.
Faro airport is the nearest international airport, at a distance of just under 60 mi (100 km). Here’s how to get from Faro to Lagos:
- Renting a car is advisable, especially if you plan on taking some day trips from Lagos to explore the wider area. Rental cars come pretty cheap in Portugal, just do in take into account that you’ll be paying toll when driving in Portugal.
- The fare for a taxi or Uber ride ranges anywhere between €70 and €100 one-way. In comparison: we paid €200 for 10 days of car rental and that includes a one-way fee since we picked up the car in Faro and dropped it off in Lisbon.
- Another option is to take public transport but, unfortunately, buses and trains from Faro to Lagos all leave from Faro city and not from its international airport.
Seaside things to do in Lagos
The wider Lagos area is blessed with so much natural beauty, especially along the Algarve coast. Because it is located in between the quiet waters of the Eastern Algarve and the bigger waves from the Portugese west coast, the sea has carved out some spectacular rock formations. The cliffs at the Lagos coastline look less polished than those in the Eastern Algarve and protect the golden beaches from the strongest currents. Plenty of water activities allow visitors to explore the hidden caves and unusual formations along this coast.
– Relax at some of the best beaches in Lagos
The beaches in Lagos, Portugal, are nothing short of spectacular. Soft sand, clear waters and impressive scenery are standard here. Plus, it’s easy to find parking near the beaches. Alternatively, you could hop on the Lagos tourist train to reach these golden stretches of sand. Here’s our personal selection of the most beautiful beaches near Lagos:
- Praia do Camilo (Camilo beach): This is by far our favorite beach in the Algarve. The dramatic entrance with jaw-dropping views might have something to do with that. Lots of steps on the woorden staircase towards Camilo beach but the scenery just keeps getting better as you make your way down. This picture-perfect beach in Lagos consists of two sides, divided by a carved-out tunnel in the cliff. The golden sand is very soft and the waters crystal-clear, making this one of the best snorkeling spots in Portugal.
- Praia da Dona Ana (Dona Ana beach): Another exquisite beach in Lagos is Praia da Dona Ana. With spectacular cliff-top views, gentle waters and an abundance of sea shell, this beach is perfect for families. There’s a concession stand on the beach.
- Praia do Pinhão (Pinhão beach): This stunning beach can be reached by a long stone stairway . Its secluded location, hugged by the towering cliffs, protects visitors from the wind and creates plenty of shade. You can walk to this Lagos beach from the marina in less than half an hour.
- Meia Praia (Meia beach): Being the largest beach in Lagos, stretching out over 2.5 mi (4 km), Meia Praia is perfect for those long beach walks. It’s also Lagos’ busiest beach with many bars dotting this golden stretch of sand and plenty of water sports on offer. Why not take your first surfing lesson here? Do note that the easternmost part of the beach, near the Alvor river, is a nudist area.
– Admire the Ponta da Piedade
One of the quintessential things to do in Lagos, Portugal, is visiting the Ponta da Piedade. It’s an impressive setting of cliffs, rock formations, grottos and caves amidst the clearest waters. The views are out of this world, especially when you make your way to past the lighthouse to the tip of the cliff.
From there, you can see a long set of stairs – 182 to be exact – leading visitors down to the Ponta da Piedade waterside. The boat trips and kayak tour that start from here allow you to see the many natural caves and see the rock formations up close. It’s one of the top Lagos attractions. Locals have even named some of the rock formations at the Ponta da Piedade, the Elephant being the most popular one. You’ll see more on a boat trip in the morning when low tide reveals some captivating hidden grottos.
Never stand on the edge of these stunning cliffs since they can crumble at any time. When you travel with kids, keep them close because there are no railings along the sides of the cliffs. The cliff hike to Praia de Porto de Mós is said to be spectacular.
– Take a boat tour from the Lagos marina
Join a boat tour from the Lagos marina to explore the wider Lagos area. You’ll find anything from short trips to Ponta da Piedade to longer dolphin-watching excursions. Here are some suggestions:
Top things to do in Lagos’ old town
Not all of the Lagos attractions can be found near the coast: The old town, embraced by the 16th-century city walls, is just as appealing. From the whitewashed houses around the cobbled streets to impressive churches and even a fortress, the historic center is packed with must-sees. Here’s our take on the best things to do in Lagos’ historic center:
– Have a drink at the Praça Luís de Camões
We love the laid-back yet lively vibe and the fact that locals enjoy the city just as much as tourists do. The many cafes that line the patterned streets and squares look very inviting and some of the houses seem to come straight out of a storybook. The house on the photo, which is located on a corner of the Praça Luís de Camões, is certainly the most remarkable one. The jacaranda trees complete the postcard view.
Lagos played an important role in Portugal’s Age of Discoveries during which other continents were explored and colonized. Infante D. Henrique, a.k.a. Henry the Navigator, a.k.a. initiated this glorious era in the 15th century. The harbour of Lagos was often the starting point for his expeditions. His statue stands proudly in front of the Igreja de Santa Maria (church).
– Take the kids to the Centro Ciência Viva de Lagos (Science museum)
That first period of globalisation allowed Portugal to develop specialized knowledge in the areas of naval technology, nautical science, astronomy and cartography. The first research centres on Portuguese soil where established in Lagos and Sagres. The Science Centre commemorates that historic expertise and presents it in a fun and creative way, geared towards children. (You’ll be glad to learn that all information is also available in English.)
Psst, looking for other fun things to do in Lagos with kids? Check out these options:
- Lagos Zoo (Parque Zoológico de Lagos)
- Slide & Splash Water Park
- Lagos Adventure Park (Parque Aventura Lagos) with its high ropes.
– Remember the bad times at the Mercado de Escravos (Slave Market Museum)
The Age of Discoveries might have been glorious for the Portuguese, it was a black page in history for many others. One of the Portuguese conquers was Nigeria, where the explorers even named the capital after Lagos, Portugal. It was in Nigerian Lagos that slaves from all Portuguese colonies were gathered to be transported to the first slave market, which was located in Lagos, Portugal. The market existed for no less than 250 horrifying years. The Slave Market Museum is a reminder of this inhumane practice and therefore a must-see in Lagos.
– Visit the Forte da Ponta da Bandeira
The Forte da Ponta da Bandeira, also known as the Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora da Penha de França, dates back to the 17th century. This fortress, with a hanging bridge over a moat, was used to defend the city by keeping enemy boats out of the harbour. Nowadays it’s used for exhibitions and home to a small museum and a tiled chapel.
– Admire the interior of the Igreja de Santo António (church)
Portugal became a wealthy country as a result of the international trade and power. Lagos, being at the source of this prosperity, was a thriving city. You can still see that wealth reflected in several buildings, such as the 18th century church of St. Anthony (Igreja de Santo António). The wooden altar guilded with Brazilian gold, the painted ceiling and the azulejos (typical tiles) are incredibly detailed. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside the church.
If you’re interested to learn more about the history of Lagos, you could head to the nearby Museu Municipal Dr. José Formosinho.
– Head to the Castelo de Lagos (Lagos castle)
Lagos, Portugal was the capital of the Algarve province from the late 16th until the mid 18th century. The city walls and Lagos Castle, along the Jardim da Constituição near the marina, are reminders of that important role. The Castelo de Lagos was the seat of the governors of the Algarve region and is therefore also known as the Governor’s Castle (Castelo dos Governadores). The arched gate formed the entrance to the castle. Unfortunately this is the only remaining part of the Lagos Castle after, in 1775, an earthquake and tsunami wiped away the rest of the building as well as most of the historic center. The city of Faro, which had managed to stay relatively undamaged thanks to the Rio Formosa sand banks, took over Lagos’ political role.
Lagos was rebuilt to the city you see today. It became a thriving fishing village until tourism took over its economic role.
Exciting things to do near Lagos, Portugal
Now that you’re familiar with the best things to do in Lagos, Portugal, it’s time to expand your horizons and look for some exciting (half) day trips from the city. All of the following suggestions, even those located in the Alentejo region, can be reached in less than 1 hour. Check out the Lagos tourist map at the beginning of this post to see which trips you could mix and match.
– Visit the fishing villages of Carvoeiro and Ferragudo
A superb little town close to Lagos is Carvoeiro, a small fishing village with a lively center. It’s famous for its wooden boardwalk, starting from the cliff at the left side of the beach. Enjoy the postcard views of the town and sweeping ocean vistas. The boardwalk leads to the Algar Seco rock formation with its A Boneca cave.
That other fishing village, Ferragudo, is located at the mouth of the Arade river, opposite from Portimão. Lots of lcal fishermen still live there in typical white-washed houses. Have a chat with some of the locals at the Praça Rainha Dona Leonor town square. Or go for a beach walk to the São João de Arade fortress.
We totally prefer Carvoeiro and Ferragudo over other popular cities such as Portimão and Albufeira. Portimão felt abandoned, with many vacancies in the shopping streets. The boardwalk is nice but other than that, it didn’t charm us at all. Our impression of Albufeira is that’s overly touristy, with cheap shops and drunk guys. We thought there would have been more to the city than its stereotype reputation lead us to believe but sadly, we couldn’t find it.
– Kayak to the Benagil cave
The Benagil cave, a.k.a. Algar de Benagil or the Benagil Cathedral, is a popular cave along the Algarve coastline. ‘The eye’ is an opening in the ceiling that lets the sunlight flood, resulting in a magical setting. The unique rock formation, turquoise waters and golden sand are a treat to the eye.
Plenty of boat tours frequent this cave but they don’t allow you to stay inside. If you want to spend some time on the beach then you either need to kayak or SUP your way in. We opted for a kayak tour and had the best time.
– Step back in time in Silves
The inland town of Silves is mostly known for its impressive fortress, the Castle of Silves (Castelo de Silves). It’s strategically located at the top of the city so you’ll need to drive the steep, winding roads to reach it. There’s no parking onsite but we were lucky enough to find a parking spot in the main street.
The castle is a Moorish fortification with four towers. You can walk the entire lenght of the wall. The building’s historic strategic importance is obvious when you see the panorama. The interior of the fortification has not been preserved. Instead, there’s a beautiful garden in the courtyard with roses and fruit trees as well as an exhibition area and a cafe.
At the entrance of the building, there’s a statue of Sancho I who conquered the Silves citadel in the 12th century (after which Portugal lost it again and reconquered it in the 13th century). Just across from the fortress you’ll see the Cathedral of Silves (Sé Catedral de Silves). This was originally a mosque that was been converted to a cathedral after the Reconquista.
– Visit the end of the world in Sagres and Cape St. Vincent
Relatively close to Lagos, at the southwestern tip of the Algarve, reigned by sweeping wind, you’ll find the surfers capital of Sagres. Before the Age of Discoveries, this was believed to be the end of the world. This strategic location and dramatic coastline formed the ideal setting for Henry the Navigator to settle and establish his school of navigation, attended by Magellan and Vasco da Gama to name e few.
At the Ponta de Sagres (the Sagres point) is the Sagres fortress (Fortaleza de Sagres). From this location you can enjoy the impressive views of the lighthouse of Cape St. Vincent (Cabo São Vicente), the most southwesternmost point of continental Europe.
– Take a hike at Praia da Bordeira (Bordeira beach)
When you want to see how different the west-coast beaches are from the Algarve beaches, then a trip to Praia da Bordeira is one of the essential things to do near Lagos.
Its spectacular setting, behind the sand dunes of the Atlantic and the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, makes it one of the best Portuguese beaches. The water lagoon at the mouth of the Bordeira river attracts many migrating birds.
It’s ideal for hiking with plenty of opportunities for a picnic between the wildflowers.
– Escape the crowds in quaint Aljezur
When you’re looking to experience an Algarve town mostly unaffected by tourism, then Aljezur is where you should be headed. Located at the top of a hill, amidst the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, picturesque Aljezur with whitewashed houses oozes small-town charm. Have a stroll around the cobbled streets and enjoy the slower-paced life that you won’t find along the Algarve’s south coast. Just a half an hour drive from Lagos yet worlds apart.
– Have a dip in the spring waters of Monchique
The mountain retreat of Monchique offers yet another Algarve experience. This city, with its brightly-colored houses and cobbled streets, is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers. Mount Fóia is the Algarve’s highest mountain and offers some amazing views over the region. The village of Caldas de Monchique is home to a natural thermal spa with mineral springs that have an average temperature of around 31° C (88° F). (Do note that the waterfall and springs might disappoint during the hot summer months.)
– Visit the cities of Loulé and Faro
The town of Loulé is one of the oldest in the Algarve. It’s located inland, close to Faro. Loulé is known for its neo-Classical market hall and its Roman castle in the heart of the town. It’s a great place to spend some time, strolling the narrow streets and checking out the little souvenir shops.
We love Faro. This gorgeous Algarve city is located an hour away from Lagos but well worth the trip. The marina is located in between the historic center and the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Inside the city walls, you’ll find the whitewashed old town where orange trees line the cobbed streets. The majestic town gate called Arco da Vila forms the entrance.
The main attractions in and around the old town are the baroque-style Igreja do Carmo (church) with its Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos), the gothic-style Largo da Sé cathedral and the Nossa Senhora convent. But also the modern center, with its beautiful patterned streets, deserves a visit.
– Go island-hopping and bird-watching at the Ria Formosa lagoon
The Ria Formosa Natural Park, located in Faro, is home to sandbanks and saltwater lagoons. Several inhabited islands with pristine beaches, such as Ilha Deserta, can be visited on a boat tour. There are several hiking trails that allow you to discover the beauty of this natural wonder and its biodiversity. Make sure to bring your binoculars so you can spot migratory birds like spoonbills and flamingos.
Hotels in Lagos, Portugal
Since most of Lagos’ attractions are located close to the historic center, it’s pretty easy to decide where to stay in Lagos. What we absolutely love about this gorgeous city is the fact that you’ll find more boutique hotels here than in other Algarve cities. Plus, Lagos has some of the lowest prices for accommodation compared to some other destinations in the Algarve. Here are some hotel suggestions:
- Two gorgeous boutique hotels in the heart of Lagos are Casa Mãe & Lagos Avenida Hotel.
- The most luxurious and stylish resort along Meia Praia is the Onyria Palmares Beach House Hotel (if you’re traveling with kids older than 12 years of age).
With so many fun things to do in Lagos, Portugal, you can easily spend a week in this beautiful town. Even more if you plan on taking some day trips from Lagos too.
What are your favorite Lagos things to do?
Have you been to Lagos, Portugal? Then we want to know all about your favorite Lagos things to see. If you haven’t been yet but feel inspired to add this picturesque city to your Portuguese itinerary? Let us know in the comments!
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Portugal on your mind? Then check out these other articles:
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- 15 beaches in Portugal that will blow your mind
- Best things to do in Cascais, one of the most beautiful places in Portugal
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